GAC Hits High Notes In Key Demos

Scripps Networks Interactive's Great American Country network is striking the right chords with country-music fans.

Relying on popular music-video and biography shows featuring top country stars, coupled with an aggressive grassroots marketing effort that targets brand sponsorships of country music fairs and festivals, the network has quietly increased its awareness levels and ratings among country-music fans, said GAC senior vice president of programming Sarah Trahern.

The 57 million-subscriber network posted double-digit audience increases in several key demos during the month of October, including its core audience of 25-to-54-year-old females (22,000 viewers, up 29%), adults 18 to 49 (40,000, up 60%) and women 18 to 48 (20,000, up 54%).

Trahern attributes the ratings growth to GAC's adherence to showcasing the top performers in the genre, such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, through a heavy dose of music-video programming. Through September, the network had aired more than 48,000 music videos, more than 148% over its closest competitor, CMT.

The network supplements its music-video programming with biography specials and series including Backstory, a behind-the-scenes look at top country artists such as Trace Adkins and Blake Shelton; and Introducing, which profiles rising stars such as Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan and The Zac Brown Band.

Unlike other music-oriented networks that have moved toward airing more reality series, Trahern said GAC's insistence on sticking to its knitting with music videos has secured a loyal viewership base.

“You can be successful and have one or two super highly rated shows, but not have an identity,” Trahern said. “I think we've been successful in really having a strong identity, knowing what our programming is about and being consistent over time. Our success may not come over one or two shows that are just lightning rods but rather in delivering consistent content and numbers over time.”

In an effort to reach out to country-music fans, the network has taken its brand identity on the road. GAC has been a brand participant in nine of this past summer's top country-music festivals and sponsored a concert stage at two of the larger events — the CMA Music Festival in Nashville and a NASCAR event at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.

The network's branded tour bus also made appearances at the Country Thunder festival in Twin Lakes, Wis., as well as the Detroit Hoedown, the nation's largest free country-music festival.

GAC vice president of marketing Scott Durant said reaching out to audiences through such festivals gives GAC brand recognition and credibility within the country-music community.

“When our host is able to say from the stage, 'Hey, don't forget you can watch GAC here in this market on channel X,' that just helps bring the people in the audience and the awareness back to the cable system and where GAC is available,” he said. “GAC is becoming a brand that is much more accessible to those who watch it, and I think that's helped us create this unique bond with viewers.”

Trahern also pointed out that the network encourages viewer interaction. Beginning in first-quarter 2010, viewers will be able to pick the top new country music artists in several categories through voting on as part of a programming partnership between the network and the Academy of Country Music.

Other interactive programs — like the network's music-countdown shows, in which viewers choose their favorite songs — help GAC continue to reach out to its viewers, Durant added.

“There are some unique touch points with the fans not only when we're out in the field with the fans and festivals, but also within the mix of the programming that we have,” he said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.